2 Repub­li­cans pos­si­bly vie to lead state

Party squab­bling pos­si­ble due to Trump loy­al­ties

The Washington Times Daily - - POLITICS - BY WILL WEISSERT

AUSTIN, TEXAS | Lt. Gov. Dan Pa­trick brushed aside spec­u­la­tion of a 2018 gu­ber­na­to­rial run at the end of Texas’ last leg­isla­tive ses­sion, in­sist­ing he’d never chal­lenge his “close friend” and fel­low Re­pub­li­can Greg Ab­bott.

But more than 18 months af­ter that dec­la­ra­tion to re­porters — which came with­out any­one ac­tu­ally ask­ing about a po­ten­tial in­tra­party clash — Mr. Pa­trick has metic­u­lously moved to the gov­er­nor’s right on many is­sues that GOP pri­mary vot­ers hold dear.

Mr. Pa­trick fully em­braced Don­ald Trump be­fore the elec­tion, while Mr. Ab­bott kept his dis­tance. The lieu­tenant gov­er­nor also has be­come Texas’ lead­ing so­cial con­ser­va­tive voice, promis­ing to im­pose strict state trans­gen­der bath­room rules, pro­mot­ing school vouch­ers and blam­ing Black Lives Mat­ter for en­cour­ag­ing anti-po­lice sen­ti­ment.

Mr. Pa­trick is a tea party-backed, fiery for­mer con­ser­va­tive talk ra­dio host, while the gov­er­nor is a lawyerly, ex-Texas Supreme Court jus­tice who ap­peals more broadly to tra­di­tional Repub­li­cans. Both are down­play­ing pos­si­ble in­tra­party gu­ber­na­to­rial fight that could send shock waves through Amer­ica’s sec­ond-largest state, while also giv­ing no in­di­ca­tion they won’t sim­ply seek re-elec­tion to their per­spec­tive posts in two years.

Still, hints of Ab­bott-Pa­trick dis­cord could re­shape the ses­sion for Texas’ GOP­con­trolled Leg­is­la­ture, which con­venes for the first time since 2015 on Jan. 10. Mr. Ab­bott can fast-track leg­is­la­tion, while Mr. Pa­trick over­sees the state Se­nate.

Such ten­sions were on dis­play last ses­sion, when a grass-roots ad­vi­sory board con­vened by Mr. Pa­trick at­tacked Mr. Ab­bott’s sig­na­ture ex­pan­sion of pre-kinder­garten statewide, claim­ing it im­posed “god­less” class­room en­vi­ron­ments on young­sters.

“Is there some­body out there who wants the lieu­tenant gov­er­nor to pri­mary the gov­er­nor? I’m sure some­body does,” said Pa­trick strate­gist Allen Blake­more. “But the only per­son who re­ally mat­ters is Dan Pa­trick. And Dan Pa­trick has stated over and over again that he has no de­sire to be gov­er­nor.”

Ab­bott spokesman Matt Hirsch said: “This is noth­ing more than fake news.”

It’s a pos­si­bil­ity some Texas politi­cos none­the­less are dis­cussing. They note that Mr. Pa­trick would be ex­pected to shun a pos­si­ble gu­ber­na­to­rial run right up to the mo­ment he changes his mind and ac­tu­ally an­nounces one, while Mr. Ab­bott has to shrug off a hy­po­thet­i­cal pri­mary chal­lenge pub­licly while pre­par­ing pri­vately for one, just in case.

Though 2018 is a long way off, that cy­cle will be­gin gear­ing up shortly af­ter the Texas leg­isla­tive ses­sion ends on June 1.

“I hear there’s fric­tion,” said Carl Tep­per, a West Texas grass-roots ac­tivist who was a Trump del­e­gate to the Re­pub­li­can Na­tional Con­ven­tion.

Mr. Tep­per said he doesn’t be­lieve there will be an Ab­bott-Pa­trick pri­mary show­down but that some Trump loy­al­ists re­mained un­happy with Ab­bott.

The gov­er­nor vo­cally sup­ported Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s pres­i­den­tial bid but was wary of Mr. Trump. Mr. Ab­bott long wouldn’t men­tion the bil­lion­aire busi­ness­man’s name, say­ing only that he’d sup­port his party’s pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee. Mr. Pa­trick, who also orig­i­nally backed Mr. Cruz, quickly be­came the state’s top Trump cheer­leader af­ter the sen­a­tor dropped out.

Todd Smith, a con­sul­tant for Agri­cul­ture Com­mis­sioner Sid Miller, an­other top Texas sup­porter of Mr. Trump, noted that the cool­ness of some Repub­li­cans to­ward the party’s White House nom­i­nee sparked “frus­tra­tion and ten­sion.”

Mr. Smith said that may have con­trib­uted to Mr. Trump’s win­ning Texas by only 9 per­cent­age points, the first GOP pres­i­den­tial can­di­date since 2000 not to take the state by dou­ble dig­its.

“I think the Re­pub­li­can base in Texas ap­pre­ci­ates loy­alty,” Mr. Smith said, “and I think they ap­pre­ci­ate folks not be­ing wishy-washy.”

Just ask Mr. Cruz, who has seen his pop­u­lar­ity slip in Texas since re­fus­ing to en­dorse Mr. Trump at the Re­pub­li­can Na­tional Con­ven­tion, even though he even­tu­ally came around. As­so­ci­ated Press exit polling from Elec­tion Day showed slightly more than half of statewide vot­ers hold­ing un­fa­vor­able opin­ions of the sen­a­tor.

There’s no in­di­ca­tion Mr. Ab­bott’s stand­ing has suf­fered. But so far Mr. Pa­trick has been out front in set­ting much of the 2017 leg­isla­tive agenda. He has vowed Texas will ban trans­gen­der peo­ple from us­ing public bath­rooms of their choice, de­spite a sim­i­lar North Carolina law spark­ing na­tional up­roar.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Texas Lt. Gov.-elect Dan Pa­trick has vowed a bath­room pol­icy sim­i­lar to North Carolina’s con­tro­ver­sial trans­gen­der mea­sure.

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